I'd Call That A Bargain
This is the story of the best ten dollars I ever spent...
In October of 1999, I was living in Las Vegas, working as a supervisor at the Virgin Megastore. One afternoon I was upstairs in the office when one of my managers came in and announced that The Who were playing the next weekend at MGM Grand Garden Arena, and tickets were only ten bucks. Now I should admit that if the tickets had been regular price, I wouldn't have gone. The Who were not coming off the greatest period of their history. Their recent reunion tours had been overblown and underwhelming spectacles, featuring too many additional musicians, guest singers, and worst of all Pete Townsend playing acoustic guitar exclusively due to his issues with tininitus. So I wasn't expecting much, but you simply don't pass up an opportunity to see one of the greatest rock bands of all time for one measly Alexander Hamilton.
The concert was part of iBash'99, an extravagant and expensive launch party for a dot-com company called Pixelon. In addition to The Who, the day long event featured Tony Bennett, The Brian Setzer Orchestra, The Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill, and a lip synching Kiss. The $10 million event was supposed to be a showcase for their revolutionary new streaming technology, although it turned out to be a huge bust. They claiming Microsoft technology as their own, their servers crashed, and a year later their founder (who turned out to be a fugitive using a fake identity) was in jail and the company was bankrupt.
Like I said, we went into the show with low expectations, and at first it seemed like they were going to be met. The arena was only half full, and the show started late. When the lights went down, emcees David Spade and Cindy Margolis took the stage to what seemed like a chorus of boos. As it turned out, the crowd was yelling "BOOB!" due to a wardrobe malfunction from the world's most downloaded woman. After hyping the internet technology that wasn't actually working, they introduced the band. Roger Daltry, Pete Townsend and John Entwhistle took to the bare bones stage, accompanied only by drummer Zak Starkey and longtime Who keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick. Townsend plugged in a red Stratocaster and immediately started furiously banging out the chords to "I Can't Explain." And our jaws dropped. Far from being the lackluster performance we were expecting, we were blown away. This was The Who that we all loved... a stripped down, powerful and passionate rock band. No frills, no fuss, no filler. The ninety minute set focused almost exclusively on their hits, with only Entwhistle's "My Wife" thrown in as a deep catalog treat for the hardcore fans. But with the raw energy they were projecting, I sure as hell wasn't going to complain. It was a little rough around the edges at times, but frankly thats the way a good rock show should be. No one cared that Daltrey came in early during "Anyhow, Anyway, Anywhere," or that Townsend had to switch guitars in the middle of "Pinball Wizard" due to broken strings. We were witnessing the rebirth of one of rock and roll's all time greats. And when Daltrey let loose his throat shredding yell during "Won't Get Fooled Again" (which is easily the greatest scream in the recorded history of rock and roll), I got goosebumps. It was that good.
There are a lot of people who say The Who should have broken up for good when Keith Moon died (although that would have denied us most excellent and underated "Eminence Front"). And those same people would say the band really stopped being The Who when Entwhistle died in 2002. And I'd have to admit that those people have a point. The Who were definitely one of those band where each member was a singular talent. But having seen three-quarters of the original Who play an absolutely amazing show ten years ago, I still think the Daltrey/Townsend show will be worth watching at halftime on Super Bowl Sunday. It'll sure as hell be better than Up With People.
The Who - "Behind Blue Eyes (Alternate Version)" (mp3) from Who's Next
Pearl Jam - "Baba O'Reilly" (mp3) from 10/22/00 - Las Vegas, Nevada
Sugar - "Armenia City In The Sky" (mp3) from Besides
The 1999 concert is avaible on DVD as The Who - The Vegas Job.